Inverness Christens Depot District a “Really Cool Place”
On November 16, 2019, we celebrated the Grand Opening of the Depot District that unites renovated city and state parks, open spaces and multipurpose public buildings to serve Inverness residents and visitors.
“I-Town”, as City Manager Frank Digiovanni calls it, is worth the drive even if you don’t live in Citrus County. Well, it’s worth the drive to this wonderful enclave of natural beauty enhanced by historic downtown buildings housing boutique retailers and a variety of dining-drinking options around a 1912 courthouse and museum that spurs memories of Back to the Future and Elvis, no matter where you live.
One especially scenic route is from west Hernando or Pasco Counties, going north on U.S. 19, via Centralia, Citrus Way, Stage Coach Trail, and then Pleasant Grove Road before turning onto State Road 44. It eventually becomes Main Street and winds through downtown Inverness.
Along the way, you will experience what some call “Old Florida”. It’s a chance to enjoy the lush forests, winding dirt driveways with homes tucked back into the woods, and the chance of seeing deer or even a bear—stay alert! But most of all there is the serenity reminiscent of what early settlers might have experienced. Inverness is very convenient to access via other routes, however, so choose the way that suits you best.
After driving slowly through historic downtown Inverness, suddenly there it is, The Depot District on North Apopka Avenue. If you have been there before and it doesn’t look familiar, it’s because it has been “re-purposed,” according to City Manager Frank Digiovanni. If you have not been there before, get ready for some WOW moments.
40-foot Water Tower and a Public Stage
You can’t miss the new 40-foot water tower that serves as a gateway to Liberty Park and includes a multi-purpose open stage beneath it. In fact, that’s where the Grand Opening ceremony took place.
The ceremony was opened with a presentation of the American Flag by the Nature Coast Young Marines JROTC, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer by City Council President Ken Hinkle.
Speakers included Mayor Bob Plaisted, City Council members, Assistant City Manager Eric Williams; with appearances by County Commissioners, Superintendent of Schools Sandra Himmel, Afro-American Club of Citrus County President Robert Shelton, Crystal River Mayor Joe Meek, and representatives from the offices of State Representative Ralph Massullo and U.S. Representative Daniel Webster, as well as the Project Director Marc Black.
Hundreds of residents and visitors were walking around and enjoying the area even prior to the ceremony.
The Depot District Vision began many years ago
When City Manager Frank DiGiovanni spoke, he challenged everyone to “aim high” and told citizens that this grand re-opening of the Depot District and parks “is a legacy moment, and you’re all part of it.” He shared his philosophy that “people talk about cities they have visited, not counties.” The vision is that the Depot District will also draw visitors to the downtown area. Digiovanni added that it’s going to be known as “a cool place”.
Individual ribbon cuttings followed for the Depot District, Liberty Park and Wallace Brooks Park. During the day The MUDDS jazz and blues duo entertained, along with music by two Citrus High School students. Another Wow moment was the “flash mob” dancing throughout the area by youth from the Citrus Academy of Dance and Arts, who make up the CADA Fearless Competition Team.
Uniting City and State Parks with the Natural Environment and the Urban Core
The buildings adjacent to the existing Liberty and Wallace Brooks parks and Big Lake Henderson are part of the revitalization project that started many years ago, becoming a solid concept in 2016, and included the latest technology: photos from flyovers by planes and drones so aerial views could help inspire the vision of the new district.
Construction began in November 2018. When asked who came up with the idea of redesigning and renovating the 10-plus-acre site instead of tearing it all down, Digiovanni smiled proudly and said it was “several people all sharing ideas.”
Thousands of visitors already enjoy the Withlacoochee State Trail (part of Florida’s Rails-to-Trails).
Now Wallace Brooks Park (established in 1968 and named in honor of an African-American citizen hiker), and Big Lake Henderson (part of the Tsala Apopka Lakes chain) will bring easier access with boat ramps and docks for fishing, boating of many types, and providing new paths and trails for bicycle enthusiasts and hikers.
Public Services are integrated into the Depot District for Residents and Visitors
With the new pavilion, picnic, playground, and sports areas, there doesn’t seem to be anything missing from this re-purposed area.
There are restrooms and outdoor showers, and new red, metal benches and directional signs throughout the entire area.
In fact, on Grand Opening Day, the Depot District was teeming with recumbent bike riders, hikers, children running in the open areas and doing what kids do in the playground area.
Volleyball teams were on the court for a tournament, kayakers were paddling around on the lake, and some folks were just sitting on the roomy benches, enjoying the beauty of nature.
Liberty Park has been re-landscaped to include parking and open-air stages, lighting, and restrooms. It allows smooth access to the Depot Market that, on Saturdays, will serve as an open-air farmers’ market with fresh produce and homemade goods, as well as locals selling their arts and crafts. It is also available as a venue for entertainment and rental opportunities.
The historic Inverness Train Depot that was the inspiration for the revitalized area, was an enormous undertaking by itself. The depot was built in 1892 as part of the Atlantic Coast Line and moved to its new location, facing a section of the Withlacoochee State Trail that winds through the District. The newly renovated depot has a historic look to it and will be used for small businesses that “cater to cycling, tourism, music and the many activities that abound.”
In keeping with the outdoor experience, a drawing was held for a free bicycle donated by Inverness Bike and Fitness. Now that’s cool!
The City of Inverness itself can be proud of many other honors. The Florida Trail Association considers it a Gateway Community; the National Arbor Day Foundation and U.S. Forest Service designated Inverness a Tree City USA in 1995; and in 2009 it was honored as City of the Year by Forty and Eight (an organization of United States veterans whose name translates from French to “Society of 40 men and 8 horses”.)
For information about the Depot District and event rental opportunities, contact Manager Betty Pleacher at [email protected] or call 352-727-2611, ext. 1801.
For information about the City of Inverness, contact Marketing Manager Liz Fernley at [email protected] or call 352-726-2611, ext. 1306.
Without a doubt, Inverness in Citrus County Florida is a “must visit” place for every Nature Coaster.